The story of “Cinderella” may have been placed in pop culture history thanks to Walt Disney, but before it was the 1950 cartoon classic, the fairy tale was incarnated as an opera, too.
To close out the season, Pensacola Opera presents Gioachino Rossini’s “Cinderella” this weekend. While there’s no glass slipper or fairy godmother, the magic of storytelling is still there.
“The story and premise are similar—a beautiful, young woman is denigrated to servitude by her family but ultimately saved by a prince,” said Pensacola Opera Artistic Director, Kyle Marrero. “Our version, Rossini’s version, is charming, beautiful, touching and more humanistic in its drama. The story is more about true love and human nature—still with comic hilarity and Disney extravagance.”
Rossini composed “Cinderella,” or “La Cenerentola” in Italian, when he was 25 years old following the success of “The Barber of Seville,” which Pensacola Opera performed last year.
“Though composed only one year later and containing discarded musical elements from ‘Barber of Seville,’ ‘Cinderella’ took longer to become part of the standard Rossini fare,” Marrero explained. “In fact, it is only within the past few decades that it has been frequently produced and admired.”
The local production of “Cinderella” is a collaboration among national and international talent, Pensacola Opera chorus and artists in residence and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra.
“Opera is the ultimate art form,” said Music Director and Conductor Jerome Shannon. “It combines all elements of the arts. Any one of those experiences by itself is pretty spectacular. Now when you put it all together it can be incredibly powerful and almost overwhelming—that’s opera. ‘Grand’ opera is not possible without a live orchestra. The presence of the PSO is one of the most essential elements in creating the total experience.”
On and off stage, Shannon estimates about 100 people help bring an opera production such as “Cinderella” to the Saenger Theatre.
“It’s great to hear a live symphonic concert. It’s great to hear soloists sing. It’s great to hear a chorus. It’s great to view works of art—scenery, costumes, wigs, make-up—and it’s great to see live actors on the stage,” he said.
Playing the role of Cinderella is Karin Mushegain, who Marrero said is becoming well-known for this specific role, most recently with the Seattle Opera last year.
“First and foremost, there must be an innocence mixed with intelligence in any successful portrayal of Cinderella,” he said. “It also helps if the singer is beautiful. Well, we’ve got it all in Karin Mushegain.”
In traditional fashion, Pensacola Opera has prepared for its latest production with little to no preparation time. Principal performers arrive just under two weeks before the curtain rises on the Saenger stage. However, working on a Rossini opera makes rehearsals a little more effortless.
“He is actually a wonderful composer and makes the conductor’s job very easy,” Shannon said. “He was a masterful orchestrator, so he uses the instruments to create very colorful and emotive sounds.”
For anyone who was lucky enough to catch “The Barber of Seville” last year, you can expect the same upbeat and peppy tempos, as well as beautiful arrangements that surround the story of Cinderella and the prince.
“The music is absolutely gorgeous; such beautiful writing by Rossini for the voices and the orchestra,” Shannon said.
“Cinderella” is the perfect introduction to opera for any age, Marrero said.
“Children will love the energetic music, playful, funny characters and enough connection to the story they know and love,” he explained. “Parents should tell their children about the small differences. If they are anything like my four-year-old, they will wonder where the magic pumpkin, talking cats and mice are.”
Children will get the chance to delve deeper into the story of “Cinderella” with a special Tea Party event before Sunday’s matinee. Prince and princess costumes are encouraged.
“The Tea Party was a brainchild of Jennifer Knisbell in our office,” Marrero said. “Our Cinderella and Prince will arrive and mingle with kids culminating on an onstage ‘wave to the audience’ at the pre-curtain announcements before the performance.”
While it’s sad to see the 2014 Pensacola Opera season come to a close, at least “Cinderella” will provide us with a happy ending.
“It is a great pairing with Carmen—bad girl versus good girl, drama and tragic death versus true love and comedy,” Marrero said. “This season, Pensacola Opera’s 31st, has definitely been a dream come true for us with great artistic success and support from our community.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday March 21 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 23
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $20 and up
CINDERELLA TEA PARTY
WHEN: 12 p.m., Sunday March 23
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $70 for one child and adult, $30 for add-on tickets